For the 600 million people in rural Asia and Sub Sahara Africa that live below the $1 a day poverty line staple food crops provide their primary food source (1). High dependence on foods of low nutritional value has led to widespread micronutrient deficiency that is having a significant effect on public health. Currently half of the global population rely on rice as their staple food source (2) and one fifth depend on rice cultivation for their livelihood (3). Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that cannot be synthesised in the body and must therefore be taken in dietary form. It plays a key role in regulating various biological processes in the body including; growth, maturation, proliferation, vision, reproduction, immunity, red blood cell production and epithelial integrity and embryonic development (4). Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is defined by serum retinol counts that indicate the extent and severity of nutritional status. A count of less than 0.7 μmol/l constitutes clinical VAD and less than 0.35 μmol/l as severe VAD (5). Subclinical VAD affects the immune system and leads to increased incidence and severity of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections (6). Clinical VAD presents with visual defects initially night blindness due to the rod cells being deprived of vitamin A. This progresses to xerophthalmia where the columnar and mucous secreting cells of the eye under go reversible squamous metaplasia and keratinisation. If VAD persists dying of the ocular surface leads to corneal scarring and permanent blindness (4).
Children and pregnant women are most at risk of morbidity and mortality from VAD due to increased nutritional demands. It is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that 250 million preschool aged children are VAD of which 250 000 to 500 000 go blind each year, half of these children die within a year of loosing their sight (7). South East Asia and Africa have... [continues]
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